It’s been a while but like a true fabulous islandista I was indulging in the delights of Barbados’ Crop-Over festival for the last fortnight or so – it’s only THE summer carnival to attend – sorry Antigua, St. Lucia, SVG, Grenada et al! 🙂
But some of the things I have seen and heard over the course of the festival have definitely got me to thinking – about entertainment and longevity and originality. There was a whole lot of fussing during Crop-Over from local artists and their managers at the fact that the National Cultural Foundation was willing to shell out $30 000 for Machel Montano and a similarly hefty sum for David Rudder and Patrice Roberts to perform at Cohobblopot which is the last major show before Kadooment Day – it is basically part of the climax of the Crop-Over festival.
By contrast, Alison Hinds was rumoured to have been offered $3500.
During this Crop-Over season I got the opportunity to view Machel’s show – or should I say Machel Montano HD.
I also saw performances by two of Barbados’ most successful soca artistes – Alison Hinds and Rupee.
As little as 7,8 years ago all three of these performers were on the same level fame-wise and no doubt, fees-wise. But over the years, the gap between them has been growing, in Rupee’s case despite (or maybe in part because of) his international label contract.
Truth be told, Alison and Rupee’s performances, image, the whole works are little different to what they were doing years ago. Both have their ‘own’ bands now – Rupee has the Dot Com band and Alison has moved on to the Alison Hinds Show. But little has changed beyond the name changes.
Alison still does the ‘wining test’ routine where she calls up a man to ‘test her wine’. Musically she has not expanded the range of music she performs, sticking to groovy soca or power soca. Yet we know that Alison is versatile – anyone who has ever heard the seminal Square One ‘Four Sides’ album they put out for their tenth anniversary or seen one of the Four Sides concerts they put on that year would know she is capable of dancehall chanting, ballads, RnB and so much more.
Rupee is even worse – the last major change in his image was in 2000 when he cut off the long hair that had been his signature with Coalishun. I saw him perform this season and it pained me that it was basically a snooze-fest. He is sporting the same cap and shades and track jacket or blazer, singing the same tunes in the same groove and has not added anything. The thing is, I love Rupee’s music but he is not doing himself any favours by staying in the same comfy niche for so long.
Machel on the other hand, gives you value-added. In the last five years or so, he has been making a greater and greater effort to add interest and spice to his shows. In that time he has brought us the Xtatik Circus (remember the Power Puff girls wukking up on stilts?), Xtatik the Marching Band and now Machel Montano HD.
It is not by accident then that his star has risen even after a quarter century in the industry and his fees have risen as well. He said as much back in June in an article published in the Nation:
“People like Alison Hinds came to Trinidad and commanded some great fees in times when our artistes wasn’t commanding those fees. People like krosfyah, people like Rupee . . . something like fees is determined by the artistes themselves,” he said, adding that critics had to come up to speed with what was happening.
He spoke specifically of the Bajan Invasion, which exploded in 1996, and the massive response from Trinidadians to the slower-paced music that they were unaccustomed to.
The 26-year veteran said artistes had to see beyond the fees, but management and professionalism had to come into play as well.
“I remember sitting down with my management and devising plans, not just to raise our fees, but to raise our production and when we raised our production level, we received more. Because it obviously cost more. So everything is a growth basis . . . you work your way up through integrity, through consistency, through product.”
Moreover, this is not just the case in soca (though it may well be amplified because soca is still so seasonal that your window of opportunity for making an impact each year that will carry you through to the next one is limited).
Look at Madonna. The woman is 50 and yet she keeps changing up her image – from ‘Like a Virgin’ Madonna to the ‘Blond Ambition’ S&M Madonna to the Far East inspired ‘Ray of Light’ Madonna to the 70’s roller disco queen ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’ Madonna and several in between. She doesn’t sit back and presume that being Madonna is enough.
Look at our own islandista Rihanna. It was when she dramatically changed up her image with her most recent album ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ that she achieved her greatest levels of success to date.
So now it is up to Barbadian and other regional artistes to decide if they are going to follow the trail Machel has been blazing.